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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: You think Rick Scott is bad? Check these guys out

Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, on March 3 during his State of the State address. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, on March 3 during his State of the State address. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 5, 2015

Let's start with the racist:

Sidney Catts, a Baptist minister who had never before held public office and was the nominee on the Prohibition ticket, was antiblack, anti-Jew and anti-Catholic. Somehow, he persuaded Florida voters to elect him governor in 1916.

Later, there was Gov. Haydon Burns. The Democratic former mayor of Jacksonville was elected governor in 1964 after labeling his white opponent "the NAACP candidate.'' His first term went so well, his re-election attempt never got out of the primary.

There was a zealot (Gov. John Milton committed suicide while in office in 1865 rather than be part of the reunification after the Civil War), a provocateur (Charley Johns rose to power in 1953 when Gov. Dan McCarty died in office, and Johns immediately began undoing all of McCarty's work) and a somewhat shady governor (in 1951, Gov. Fuller Warren refused a subpoena from a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime).

All in all, Florida's roll call of governors does not lack for clowns or characters.

So is it really possible Rick Scott is the worst of the bunch?

Darryl Paulson, retired professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, raised that possibility in a Times story on Sunday.

Paulson, a longtime Republican who was a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says he has no problem arguing that Scott is the worst Florida governor in the modern era, which Paulson says begins roughly in the mid 1950s.

"Why is he the worst?" Paulson says, repeating a question. "There are so many things, I don't even know where to begin. There are very few things you can point to if you were going to sit down and say, 'This is Rick Scott's legacy as a governor.'

"Even the bad governors have something they can brag about. It's just hard to see anything Scott has accomplished. You know what he was good at? Winning close elections."

That much is true.

Scott won two high-spending gubernatorial races while compiling 48.87 and 48.14 percent of the vote. To put that in perspective, Jeb Bush got 49.23 percent of the vote when he lost to Lawton Chiles in 1994.

So Bush was more popular in defeat than Scott was in victory.

This relative lack of acclamation has certainly contributed to Scott's troubles as a governor. While he has enjoyed strong Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, lawmakers have never felt the need to fear Scott's popularity.

For his part, Scott never seemed to have the skill, charm or even the desire to try to win legislators over.

Instead, his tenure has been a string of heavy-handed attempts to impose his rather limited vision on the state. That has meant restrictive voting laws, environmental rollbacks and the stripping of Cabinet authority.

In the first year of his second term, the former hospital executive's legacy may hinge on his own state's inability to come up with a health care plan.

"His leadership has been so inconsistent, so flaky, you can almost say there has been no leadership," Paulson said. "The bottom line is he's done a terrible job for the state."

Worst governor in modern history?

Scott has three years to change that legacy.

Or cement it.

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